When you’re overweight, it can be tempting to try eating as little as possible so you can lose weight. Meal replacement shakes are often used to reduce calories while still providing the nutrients you need for energy and health. But can you drink only meal replacement shakes without food, and what would happen if you did?
Only drinking meal replacement shakes might cause most people to give up completely and binge on unhealthy food. However, for people who are morbidly obese, an all-liquid diet proves beneficial for quick weight loss, often saving their lives.
Because weight loss is a journey, not a race, a well-balanced diet can help you lose weight for the long term. However, let’s take a look at what could happen if you drink only meal replacement shakes.
Weight Loss Is a Journey, Not a Race
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you didn’t gain weight overnight.” So if you didn’t gain weight overnight, why would you try to lose the weight overnight?
Weight loss is a journey that takes some time before you reach your destination. Yet, most people try to treat it as a race, trying the newest fad diet to cheat their way to the finish line. The thing about that is that it doesn’t work for the long term, and they end up gaining their weight back, plus more.
Meal replacement shakes are one of several ways people try cheating their way to the finish line without changing their eating habits or diet. When they resort to only drinking meal replacement shakes, eventually, they start missing out on food and abandon their diet altogether.
While it’s easier to buy meal replacement shakes and not have to plan your meals, exclusively drinking them has the added disadvantage of losing out on valuable nutrients found only in certain whole foods.
With a Well-Balanced Diet, You Don’t Need Gimmicks
Weight loss gimmicks like liquid diets, grapefruit diets, or meal replacement shakes are not substitutes for a well-balanced diet with meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Long-term weight loss depends on creating sustainable eating habits that you can stick with for life. You can use meal replacement shakes in your diet, but if you’re not eating at least one to two meals per day, you won’t change anything.
To make lasting changes in your diet, try the following steps:
- Eliminate all sodas or drinks containing sugar or other high-glycemic sweeteners.
- Reduce or eliminate other sweets and high-carb treats from your diet while replacing them with items made with stevia or monk fruit.
- Increase consumption of vegetables if you eat less than the recommended daily allowance.
- Focus on having meat or eggs for at least two of your daily meals.
- Eliminate extra snacks because snacking does contribute to weight gain.
You don’t want to attempt all of these steps at once. Rather, you should complete one step at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed by changing everything in one go. When you’re overwhelmed, you have less chance of successfully making any changes.
Science, However, Is Coming Around to an All-Liquid Diet
An all-liquid diet can be beneficial to someone who is morbidly obese and has a poor quality of life. The NHS in the UK has done studies with obese patients and all-liquid diets, using meal replacement shakes, soups, broths, and smoothies. People with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 were placed on an all-liquid diet.
The diets lasted eight weeks; then, they were shown how to create a different diet plan that would support their weight loss plan. The study started the participants with shakes, soups, and bars that added up to about 1,200 calories per day. Once they got away from their old habits, the counselor and doctor gave them a new nutritional plan.
They found that people who were on this type of diet lost an average of 11 kilograms (24.25 pounds) in one year compared to only 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) for those not on a total liquid diet. However, if you’ve ever watched My 600-lb Life and seen how much weight people can lose on a liquid diet in a month after a gastric bypass, the UK liquid diet doesn’t seem that impressive.
But they plan to help people lose weight slowly and change their relationship to food so that they don’t go back to old habits once the diet is over and gain all that weight back again.
For people who don’t have that much weight to lose; however, it’s not recommended to only drink meal replacement shakes to lose weight.
All-Liquid Diets Need Counselors and Support Groups
Before you start thinking about your all-liquid diet, all the study participants in the UK were required to participate in group meetings and have a counselor help them work through any emotional issues. They also discussed proper nutrition and how to manage their diet past the initial eight weeks, with advice on using the initial diet food.
Whenever people go on these extreme diets, several emotional issues might come up. As people who are addicted to food because of past trauma, the trauma tends to come to the surface quickly once their food becomes unavailable.
Support groups and counselors need to be a part of a person’s recovery process when drastically changing their diet, or they will fall back into old habits when they get stressed.
Experiments With Meal Replacement Shakes Only
Several people have conducted experiments where they drink only meal replacement shakes for a week, two weeks, or a month. They blogged about their experiences, and while one stuck exclusively with the shakes, the other did a “Slim-fast” type of diet where she had two shakes for two meals, then a normal meal at the end of the day.
The person who had only meal replacement shakes for one week discussed their bowel issues while trying to get through a crowded subway in New York City. They also visited the bathroom more often, because as you might imagine, the increased liquid would need to go somewhere.
However, both bloggers realized in the end that solid food was a better way to replenish their energy needs and that meal replacement shakes needed to be used together with a well-balanced diet.
Can You Drink Only Meal Replacement Shakes?
The verdict seems to be out at the moment, but even when people are on physician-ordered liquid diets, they are encouraged to start eating a healthy diet once they are off the liquid diet. If you want to replace one or two meals with shakes, try to have a nutritious meal or two during the day to not run into problems.
Having only meal replacement shakes also deprives you of the one thing that satisfies you after a meal–the chewing and swallowing of solid food. There are some psychological benefits to this in that the physical act of eating food sends a message to the brain that you are full. Liquid meals don’t do this.
Drinking only meal replacement shakes sets you up for yo-yo dieting, where you gain and lose the same 25 pounds over and over. Additionally, yo-yo dieting can cause your metabolism to slow down drastically.
Instead, try modifying your eating habits to include a healthy, well-balanced diet and portion control. Meal replacement shakes are healthy in moderation and should complement your meal plan rather than make up the bulk of your plan.
A great weight loss program that teaches portion control is the 21 Day Fix. It includes the following:
- A 21-day, portion-controlled eating plan.
- Two instructional DVDs to walk you through the six workouts featured in the regimen.
- The “Start Here” guide.
- Round-the-clock support in case of any queries.
- Color-coded containers to help you control how much of the various food groups you consume.
- A three-day “Quick Fix” guide to help crank up weight loss in the final three days of the program for great “after” photos.
The 21 Day Fix is one of the best beginner’s weight loss programs around because it’s simply Step-by-Step. Many have even lost up to 15 pounds in 21 days!
- Greatist: I Drank Only Meal Replacement Shakes For One Week–Here’s What Happened
- One Strong Southern Girl: I Tried Meal Replacement Shakes For a Month (Here’s What Happened)
- Livestrong: How Much Weight Can I Lose After Drinking Meal Replacement Shakes?
- Medical News Today: What to Eat In the Protein Shake Diet for Weight Loss
- Showbiz Cheat Sheet: Do Meal Replacement Shakes Really Work?
- Wired: The Science That Explains Why Liquid-Only Diets Actually Work